This B.C. animal can bite you after it is already dead, here’s how

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rattlesnake bite
Photo: Northern pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) in California / Shutterstock

Bears, cougars, and wolves are dangerous British Columbian carnivores, but they don’t tend to bite you once they’re dead. However, there is one local predator who might: the Northwest Pacific Rattlesnake.

Stout, with large eyes and a long, dark patch on its cheek, the Northwest Pacific Rattlesnake is considered the most dangerous snake in B.C. In fact, it is the lone venomous snake in the province.

The Reptiles of British Columbia states that, “for many animals, biting is a reflex reaction.”  As such, this reflex often remains intact even after the animal is dead. What’s more, this reflex may remain in tact for quite a while after the animal’s death. The reflex may even remain after the snake is decapitated.

That’s right – you could get bitten by a decapitated snake head. As a result, you shouldn’t handle a rattlesnake, dead or alive.

Skeptical? National Geographic reports that a Texan man nearly died after a decapitated rattle snake head bit him. As a matter of fact, he had to be air-lifted to hospital and given a number of doses of anti-venom in order to save his life. According to Live Science, if a “mammal loses its head, it will die almost immediately. But snakes and other ectotherms, which don’t need as much oxygen to fuel the brain, can probably live on for minutes or even hours.”

Rattler’s fangs are usually pressed back, but when they strike their fangs flip forward. Thankfully, local rattlers aren’t particularly drawn to people – we are a little too big for their appetites. Adult diets consist of pocket gophers, wood rats, marmots, squirrels, birds, and even other snakes. As such, most rattlesnakes will quietly blend in with their surroundings and you may not even notice them. With this in mind, if you hear the rattler’s distinctive ‘rattle,’ this means that they feel cornered and may become aggressive.

There are nine different species in the province, and a handful are often confused with rattlers. According to The Reptiles of British Columbia, they may be identified from other snakes by three main characteristics:

  1. A rattle on the end of its tail
  2. A very distinct neck
  3. A broad, triangular head

In addition, rattlers may be identified by their markings. The venomous reptiles appear to have large blotches on their skin with lighter halos around them.

Rattlers also have distinctive heat pits located on the sides of their heads between their noses and eyes, but this is often hard to see from afar (and you really don’t want to get close enough to observe them – that might not end well).

If you hear a rattlesnake, stop immediately.  Locate the snake.  If you are close to the snake, remain still and allow the snake to calm down and back away.  Once you are one snake body length away, step back and go around the snake.  Remember, all snakes including rattlesnakes are protected under B.C.’s Wildlife Act.  It is illegal to kill or harm snakes, or to remove them from the wild.

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